The goal of Activity Theory is understanding the mental capabilities of a single individual. However, it rejects the isolated individuals as insufficient unit of analysis, analyzing the cultural and technical aspects of human actions.
Activity theory is most often used to describe actions in a socio-technical system through six related elements (Bryant et al.) of a conceptual system expanded by more nuanced theories:
- Object-orientedness - the objective of the activity system. Object refers to the objectivness of the reality; items are considered objective according to natural sciences but also have social and cultural properties.
- Subject or internalization - actors engaged in the activities; the traditional notion of mental processes
- Community or externalization - social context; all actors involved in the activity system
- Tools or tool mediation - the artifacts (or concepts) used by actors in the system. Tools influence actor-structure interactions, they change with accumulating experience. In addition to physical shape, the knowledge also evolves. Tools are influenced by culture, and their use is a way for the accumulation and transmission of social knowledge. Tools influence both the agents and the structure.
- Division of labor - social strata, hierarchical structure of activity, the division of activities among actors in the system
- Rules - conventions, guidelines and rules regulating activities in the system
Activity theory helps explain how social artifacts and social organization mediate social action (Bryant et al.).
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